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The Review - FEATURE
Published: 29 November 2007
Scenes from the streets

Many of the works in David Gentleman’s latest exhibition focus on the vibrant everyday life of his home manor of Camden Town – ‘the places I can walk to in under 10 minutes’ he tells Dan Carrier

THEIR likenesses are normally captured on grainy CCTV images: standing on the street corners, hoods pulled up, they have a reputation for selling bags of dried cabbage leaves masquerading as good quality dope.
But the street corner gangs are as much part of the furniture of Camden Town as the Lock gates, the red tiles of the Tube station, the fruit and veg stalls in Inverness Street, the hawkers of bootleg CDs, the bong shops and tattoo parlours.
So, as artist David Gentleman turns his palette towards the world on his Camden Town doorstep, it is no surprise he has chosen to feature this lost generation of young people in a new show he has produced for the Fine Art Society.
David’s work has taken him to the far reaches of India. His publications include watercolours of Paris, Italy and the quintessential English countryside and coastline.
But his latest exhibition is much closer to home, and the 48 pictures on display are both urban and rural – the streets of Camden Town, the heights of Primrose Hill and fields around the Suffolk cottage that provides the Gloucester Crescent-based artist with a rural retreat.
A separate exhibition, also at the Fine Art Society, features work by two of Gentleman’s early influences: Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, a tutor and friend of David’s when he was a student.
Bawden and Ravilious were close friends, having met as students at the Royal College of Art. They painted together in the 1920s, both married fellow students, and all four shared a house in Great Bardfield, Essex, which Bawden later decorated with his own murals.
“They were both heroes of mine,” David said, and his own early work had similarities in style.
Both Bawden and Ravilious were printmakers – using lino and wood – book illustrators and painted watercolour landscapes and both were fine war artists. David’s large- scale works at Charing Cross Tube station – a mural running along platforms depicting historical scenes from the area – were completed using print blocks, and he is known for four decades of book illustration, as well his own landscapes.
He has produced six books of his own works, featuring Britain, London, Coastline, Paris, India and Italy – and India is briefly revisited in the show. His daughter Amelia is a journalist based in Delhi and while visiting her recently he took the opportunity of producing pictures for the exhibition.
The show came together gradually and the theme emerged as he collated works to hang.
He said: “I started off thinking it would be open space and parks and then I gradually began to concentrate on parks I knew best. It is all places I can walk to in under 10 minutes. It is places I have known for 50 years but have not got round to painting yet.”

* A Breath of Fresh Air: Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Douglas Percy Bliss, and David ­Gentlemen are at the Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, W1
from December 6-20.
Tel: 020 7629 5116

The man who livened up our stamps

DAVID Gentleman’s design has been sent all over the world – he has produced more than 100 stamps for Royal Mail, and was behind the switch from having a simple profile of the Queen on British stamps to using artwork.
And from his designs, which he first started producing in the 1960s, he has won a lifelong friend, Labour politician and former cabinet minister Tony Benn.
Tony told the New Journal how when he was made postmaster general in 1964 he quietly asked a fellow MP to table a question to him about stamps, so he could get it on the record of how boring he thought stamps were, and make it public that he would be open to suggestions for ways of changing it.
“He pioneered the use of art-work on stamps,” recalls Mr Benn. “David responded and I commissioned him to to create an album of possible new postages stamps.
“His range stretched from famous people, historical scenes, birds, buildings, all sorts of things.
“I was astonished by the breadth and the skill of the works, and since then have ­followed his work avidly.
“He has a simply brilliant ­talent. He uses a controlled reflection of what he sees, and has all the qualities of perception you find in a great artist. I have collected a number of his ­paintings and books. He is a ­truly great British artist, one of the best of our life time, and is rightly fêted as such. Future ­generations will recognise this.”
And the pair are comfortable political bedfellows – David Gentleman designed the eye-catching posters for the Stop the War coalition, featuring a spot of blood.
In the 1980s he raised the ire of Benn’s bête noir Margaret Thatcher when he submitted a set of stamps to the Royal Mail commenting on industrial pollution: he had juxtaposed an image of a power station with a fish in a lake. Thatcher felt the design was anti-industry, but David refused to change the images as he thought the concept of would be lost. The Post Office, not wanting to confront Number 10, decided not to run the series.

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